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Holidaying on the high pastures Seben in Bolu
2002 / October

Every season in Turkey is dressed in a different garb, and if like me you are not only a dedicated traveller but fascinated by the special pleasure of revisiting the same places at different times of year, you will have observed how some places capture the quintessential beauty of each season.
One such place is Bolu, a region of mountains and forests where poetical landscapes are to be seen at all times of the year. In the district of Seben south of the city of Bolu local villagers continue the ancient tradition of spending the summer months on the high mountain pastures known as yayla.

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Holidaying on the high pastures Seben in Bolu
2002 / October

In early spring the pastures are deserted, but as the sun begins to warm the earth the silence is gradually broken. Mountain hyacinths push through the soil to paint purple patches on the landscape. The buzzing of bees fills the air, woodpeckers bang noisily on the tree trunks, and migrating birds wing their way through the sky, all declaring that winter is now really over. Soon the swathes of hyacinths make way for yellow flowers, and robins, nightjars, and the rare black storks appear in the woods of ash, beech, Scots pine, oak, alder and fir. This is the moment when trucks set out from the direction of Bolu, climbing the steep mountain road to the Seben pastures that lie at an average altitude of 1400 metres. They are carrying neither sand, nor logs nor cement. Instead the astonished faces of cows and water buffalos look out over the sides of the trucks. The annual migration to the mountains has begun.

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Holidaying on the high pastures Seben in Bolu
2002 / October
As soon as they arrive the people go to drink at the fountains and the animals make for their water troughs. They have all missed the delicious ice-cold water of the Seben springs, so cold indeed that it makes your teeth vibrate like violin strings. The local people describe it as 'karpuz çatlatan' meaning 'cold enough to crack a water melon.'
Almost every village in Seben has its own yayla, which is named after it. They include Dereceören, Kizik, Karacasu, Solaklar, Alpagut, Gökhaliller, Keskinli, Kozyaka, Gerenözü and Bozyer
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Holidaying on the high pastures Seben in Bolu
2002 / October

Each village decides on a particular day for the journey, and everyone goes together. Hardly anyone remains in the winter villages over the summer. The mountain huts of the region are made of pine wood, the timbers jointed together without any nails. They are raised above the ground and entered by tall wooden ladders. The first few days are spent repairing the huts. Overturned fences are set to rights, doors mended, and tiles blown off by winter gales are replaced. Everyone helps their neighbours, and the work is carried out on the common ground of the summer village.
The Seben pastures are mostly located on the edge of the forest or surrounded by it. Ruddy shelducks are among the migrating birds that come to the lakes in the area every spring

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Holidaying on the high pastures Seben in Bolu
2002 / October
They are safe from hunters because the people of Seben believe that it is unlucky to separate the breeding pairs that go everywhere together.
As you wander across the pastures you can gather sorrel to nibble, and catch the mouthwatering smell of bread baking in open-air ovens inside the fenced gardens. Do not worry. The people of Seben are hospitable and sure to offer you some fresh hot bread with butter. On the paths you are likely to encounter groups of young scouts and guides out exploring, and you may hear stories of treasure troves as you drink tea sitting around one of the stoves, which are needed even on summer nights at this altitude.
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Holidaying on the high pastures Seben in Bolu
2002 / October

During the mountain festivals the pastures are at their liveliest. These events are attended not only by the summer inhabitants of the pastures but people attracted from all over Turkey. On these days the pastures ring with voices, and food cooked in great cauldrons is offered to guests. Foremost among the festivals here is the Kizik Yayla Festival, for which over five thousand people gather. The entertainment consists of dancing and singing, in which everyone joins in.
It is time for me to leave the cheerful crowds behind, but I wait until darkness lifts to depart in the half light of dawn with my loaded pack, past the carefully piled heaps of logs. A folk song expresses my feelings perfectly: 'I took a cherry without planting / Without bending its branches / Give me a gift / Before I leave home.'


* Akgün Akova is a photographer and freelance writer

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